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 Downwinders At Risk - Press Room: DFW TO HOST NATIONAL PUBLIC HEARING on June 17

Monday, June 15, 2009


Because of its large concentration of cement kilns, the Environmental Protection Agency has announced that DFW will host one of only three national public hearings on new rules limiting cement industry pollution, including the first ever limits for Mercury emissions.


On June 17th, the Environmental Protection Agency will take public testimony at the DFW Airport Hyatt Regency from 10 am to 8 pm on new federal rules that would significantly decrease some of the most dangerous kinds of air pollution cement plants release, including Mercury, Particulate Matter, or soot, Hydrochloric Acid, and chemicals contributing to smog called Total Hydrocarbons.  Two other hearings will take place that week in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles.


“The EPA has finally begun to combat the under-regulated toxic emissions from cement plants, and having this hearing in DFW is a acknowledgement that North Texas residents are on the front lines of that fight” said Jim Schermbeck, of Downwinders At Risk, the local clean air group that sued the Agency beginning over a decade ago to get new emissions standards. “Everyone who’s concerned about regional air quality should come and speak out in favor of these overdue regulations. You don’t need to be a scientist or public official to tell EPA you want to breathe air that won’t kill you or make you sick.”


Midlothian, on the southern tip of the DFW Metroplex, has the largest concentration of cement kilns in the U.S.  It also has more kilns left over from the 60’s and 70’s – called “wet kilns” because of their reliance on large amounts of water - than any other part of the country.  These wet kilns do not have many of the pollution control technologies newer “dry kilns” have, and are expected to be hit hardest by the new rules. “It’s way past time these industrial dinosaurs were brought into the 21st Century,” said Schermbeck. 


Dallas, Ft. Worth, Arlington, Plano, Denton, the Dallas County Public School District and Tarrant County have all passed “green cement” policies which favor the purchasing of cement from area dry kilns over the older and dirtier wet kilns in hopes of their being replaced or modernized. Ash Grove Cement, which operates three wet kilns in Midlothian, is suing in federal court to stop them.


EPA and Texas Commission On Environmental Quality studies have shown that the Midlothian cement plants can have a big impact on air pollution levels in DFW. Combined, they account for half of all industrial pollution in North Texas. Last year, a report by students at the University of North Texas concluded that the Midlothian cement plants plus an adjacent steel mill had reported releasing approximately one billion pounds of air pollution from 1990 to 2006, including 10,000 pounds of Mercury, 21 million pounds of Total Hydrocarbons,

35 million pounds of Particulate Matter, and 400 million pounds of Sulfur Dioxide – a chemical closely associated with Hydrochloric Acid.


According to leading scientists, as little as 1/24th of an ounce of Mercury can contaminate a 20-acre lake and all the fish in it. Using this measuring stick, the 10,000 pounds of Mercury released by the Midlothian cement plants and steel mill is enough to contaminate over 133 million 20-acre lakes. Joe Pool Lake is within five miles of all the Midlothian cement plants.


Nationally, EPA predicts the rules will reduce cement plant pollution by a total of between 320 and 380 million pounds annually and save 600 to 1,600 lives every year. Costs to the entire industry will remain under $1 billion a year while public benefits range from $4 to 11 billion annually.


EPA’s hearing comes as DFW has experienced a string of “orange” pollution watch days in May, meaning the air is considered ”unhealthy to breathe” according to state and federal officials. The North Texas region has been in violation of the Clean Air Act for ozone, or smog pollution since 1991 despite numerous “clean air plans” administered by the state.


EPA’s proposed rules are the latest chapter in a legal saga going back to the George H.W. Bush Administration. Mercury regulations for cement plants were ordered in 1990 as part of an amendment to the Clean Air Act. The order gave the EPA until 1997 to adopt regulations. The agency missed the deadline and there has been a series of legal challenges ever since. Downwinders’ At Risk began joining those efforts in the late 1990’s.  In 2006 the EPA set emission standards for new plants but refused to do so for existing plants, forcing another round of lawsuits that ended with the release of these new rules on April 21st of this year.


“This two-decade episode is another example of why it’s important for citizens to remain persistent and keep fighting for cleaner air,” said Schermbeck.


For more information about the rules, you can download the official EPA fact sheet at: